Monday, October 23, 2006

Paris - Place de la Concorde

The Place de la Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Originally named Place Louis XV, the square was designed by Jacques-Ange Gabriel, Louis XV's architect, for the purpose of showcasing an equestrian statue of the King — which had been commissioned in 1748 by the city of Paris and sculpted by Edmé Bouchardon. Construction of the square began in 1754 and was completed in 1763. It is actually in the shape of an octagon, and was once bordered by large moats which no longer exist.

Several decades after its construction, this square was to serve as a focal point for the bloodiest political upheaval in the history of France: the French Revolution. When the hordes of revolutionaries seized power, they renamed the square Place de la Révolution, tore down the statue of Louis XV and replaced it with a guillotine. Between 1793 and 1795, more than 1300 people were beheaded in public executions, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

At the North end of the square are two identical stone buildings, separated by the Rue Royale. The eastern one houses the French Naval Ministry, and the western one is the Hôtel de Crillon. The Rue Royale leads to the Église de la Madeleine.

The center of the square is occupied today by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. The viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, presented the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1829. King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde in 1833. The red granite column rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tonnes. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, in 1998 the government of France added a gold-leafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk. The obelisk is flanked on both sides by fountains constructed at the time of its erection on the square.

Sources: Les Cars Rouges, Paris Pages: Place de la Concorde, Obélisque de Luxor, Wikipedia: Place de la Concorde, Discover France: Place de la Concorde, Obelisk of Luxor

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